I Want to Marry a Friend…Am I Delusional?

Reader’s Question

After a five-year marriage and a string of de facto relationships, I’ve decided I’m not marriage material. I’ve actually been explicitly told so — more than once! I’m simply not cut out for it, at least not in the sense of “happily ever after” stories. It is not the challenge of cohabiting with another, different person, under the same roof. This is a welcome challenge, as it offers unparalleled opportunities for growth, if done with care and conscience.

Rather, it is the very premise of marriage, of being a romantic union, that poses a conundrum. There is no doubt that marriage offers great benefits in building a home — an emotional refuge from the challenges of the outside world — and raising a family with a lifelong companion. But there is no romance that will ever sustain the challenges of sharing responsibilities and the simple familiarity that evolves with domestic partnership. In fact, familiarity is exactly what I want in a marriage! Familiarity is a prerequisite to trust, which along with respect, tolerance and mutual support, are cornerstones to a successful partnership (of any kind!). Thus the basis of marriage is friendship.

But men and women cannot live of friendship alone. Other than the safe mainstay of friendship, we all have — albeit in different degrees — a sense of adventure, a craving for exploring and touching the mysterious and unknown. So, if the passionate fire of romance is always replaced by the tender warmth of friendship, why not extricate romance entirely from marriage, and marry a friend? One who marries a friend is less likely to be blinded by passion and romantic love in the choice of his lifelong companion. One who marries a friend knows that their relationship is sedimented on trust, respect, mutual support and understanding, rather than the erratic wanderings of the heart and the dreamy wonderment of passion. One who marries a friend may go to the movies on a date, while his partner stays home with the kids, possibly with his or her own boyfriend or girlfriend.

Is this crazy?

Psychologist’s Reply

No, you’re not delusional. However, I think you’re having difficulty seeing the big picture in marriage. Your discussion describes social relationships as separate and distinct roles — that of a close friend and a separate romantic partner. You have several misconceptions about marriage and when you offer “the passionate fire of romance is always replaced by the tender warmth of friendship” — that’s not accurate. In a marriage, we are involved in multiple roles with our partner. Exactly as you describe, the best marriages have a core foundation of strong friendship and all those attributes found in good friends such as trust, respect, understanding and support. To that friendship is added romantic interest and passion over time. As the marriage continues, roles such as financial advisor, caretaker, parent, and counselor are added. In healthy marriages, no matter what additional roles develop, the core of friendship and romantic love remains — helping that relationship and the family survive even the most difficult times.

That sense of adventure and wonderment remains in each partner. With a secure friendship and romance, each partner can venture into new roles (such as parenting) and share their adventures with their best friend and lover. Marriage is much more than a romantic union, as romance is only part of the relationship. People often describe their spouse as their “best friend”, “soul mate”, and “other half” as that’s the primary role.

When we are told we’re not “marriage material” it’s frequently an outside opinion that we are unable or unwilling to fulfil one of the many roles required in a marriage. Many adults are fun dates, great lovers, wonderful late-night counselors, and even great friends. Skills in a single role don’t always make great marital partners, however. People who are great “fun dates” probably won’t take that middle-of-the-night call if you need them — they’re out on a date!

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I suspect you think marriage is too limiting, while good marriages are actually liberating. At this point in your life, you may not be ready for a multi-role relationship. Rather than focusing on establishing dates, I’d work on establishing good friendships. If you’re lucky, one of those good friendships will develop additional roles and become your romantic soul mate. Then you’ll be taking your best friend and sweetheart to the movies.

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